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Erdogan Defies Kerry Request, Doubles Down on Gaza Visit

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has reaffirmed his intention to brush off repeated objections from the United States and from the U.S.-backed Palestinian Authority, and to travel to the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip later this month:

Official Turkish sources told the al-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is expected to visit the Gaza Strip as planned, in May, but will assess the recommendations he received on the subject… According to the sources, Erdogan aims to visit on the pre-scheduled date in order to arrive in Gaza on the anniversary of the Marmara incident…

Erdogan’s announcement comes despite repeated pleas from U.S. officials and analysts to the effect that the trip would boost Hamas and damage U.S. interests. Secretary of State John Kerry told Erdogan as much over the weekend:

“We have expressed to the prime minister that we really think that it would be better delayed and that it shouldn’t take place at this point in time,” Mr. Kerry said in a news conference here. “The timing of it is really critical with respect to the peace process that we’re trying to get off the ground,” Mr. Kerry said. “We would like to see the parties begin with as little outside distraction as possible.”

The U.S.-backed Palestinian Authority has also called on Erdogan not to make the trip. Hamas called on Erdogan to ignore pressure from the U.S. and its allies to suspend the trip.

Analysts worry that Erdogan’s moves are being made in order to save face after he was maneuvered into accepting Israeli-Turkish reconciliation on terms that he and other hard-line Islamist Turkish officials had long rejected as inadequate. The prime minister now risks creating the perception that he is undermining American interests in order to cope with what Turkey experts have described as “hardline domestic criticism” over accepting the terms offered for reconciliation with Israel.

Meanwhile other Turkish officials, perhaps hoping to address such a perception, are emphasizing that Israeli-Turkish reconciliation is a go:

“Turkey welcomes full normalization and returning relations between the two countries to what they were before,” Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc told Hebrew daily Ma’ariv. He dismissed pessimistic assessments that relations between Israel and Turkey would not return to their previous status and that Ankara was trying to pull back from the reconciliation between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan during US President Barack Obama’s visit to Israel last month.

Arinc confirmed that he will head a delegation for next week’s talks with an Israeli delegation to discuss compensation for the families of the nine Turks killed on takeover by the IDF of Mavi Marmara, which was trying to run the blockade of Gaza in May 2010. “I expect the talks to succeed,” he said. “Normalization of Turkish-Israeli relation

Arinc is a leading candidate to succeed Erdogan as Turkey’s president. The 64-year-old was a co-founder, with Erdogan, of the Islamist Justice and Development Party over a decade ago. He is now speaker of the Turkish parliament and deputy prime minister. Erdogan himself has been rumored for several years to be suffering from ill health, and is anyway ineligible to run for reelection.

Oren Kessler contributed to this report

[Photo: cabbarhirhir / YouTube]